The Premier League Previews 2010/11, Part 20: Wolverhampton Wanderers – Age Before Beauty?
For a team that won three league titles in the 1950s, and has four FA Cup wins to it’s name, last season was as good as it’s been for a whole generation of Wolverhampton Wanderers fans, seeing as it will be 29 years since the club last embarked on consecutive seasons in the top flight. Mick McCarthy made some controversial decisions last year – his fielding of a virtual reserve side at Old Trafford by far the most standout one. Some of his other decisions now seem hypocritical, considering how defensive Wolves were last season, and how McCarthy spent the last few weeks of June criticising every World Cup minnow who dared to play for a draw in the group stages.
However, it is some of the decisions that McCarthy made in his earlier years that may shape the season that Wolves are to have. At a first glance, Wolves don’t appear to have an old squad. Goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann is 38, and captain Jody Craddock may only be three years younger, but the third oldest player at the club is 29 year old left back Matt Hill. Digging deeper however, and right back Richard Stearman turns 23 on Thursday, which is a little bit of a problem, because Stearman is the 27th oldest member of the squad. In a season where the Premier League have brought in a rule stating that you can only have 25 players over the age of 21, cuts have to be made, and ineligible players will need to be paid. Less of a concern for Roberto Mancini (even if Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi based owners didn’t become rich by throwing money away), more of a concern for those at clubs at the sharp end. Wolves were under the limit at the end of last season, but a summer that has seen a fair bit of transfer activity at the Molineux, sees the club over the limit for under 21s, and surprisingly compared to most Premier League clubs, under developed when it comes to younger players.
Most of the deals McCarthy has done over the summer have remained undisclosed, but reports estimate that a total of £18m has been spent on the team’s consolidation. The signings are uninspiring however – Steven Fletcher is a club record signing at £6.5m, but his eight goals for Burnley last season weren’t enough to keep the Clarets up last season, and with just 39 goals scored last season, it’s clearly an area that needs to be improved. The other two signings from within English football were also from a relegated club – Steven Mouyokolo and Stephen Hunt from Hull City. Hunt in particular will be aiming to avoid three relegations in four seasons. The other imports to Molineux are from Belgium – Geoffrey Mujangi Bia on loan from Charleroi, and Jelle Van Damme from Anderlecht. Van Damme will be looking to put a disastrous spell at Southampton out of his mind, as well as an impending court case back in Belgium where US international defender Oguchi Onyewu is suing Van Damme for racist abuse (Onyewu claims he was called a “dirty monkey”) during a game between Anderlecht and Standard Liege last year.
Another problem McCarthy has is the size of the squad. As we revealed two weeks ago, Wolves were one of the few sides who will need to exclude players from their squad before they name their 25 man list at the end of the month, and with Stefan Maierhofer joining Duisburg on loan, there are still two players to jettison. One of those expected to be left out was forward Andy Keogh, who has struggled to get back into the team after a cruciate ligament injury last season, but with Sam Vokes joining Bristol City on loan until January, McCarthy has stated he will only bring another striker into the club if Keogh leaves before the end of August. With 24 players over the age of 21 used in pre-season, and three players absent through injury (Michael Kightly, Stephen Hunt and long term absentee Matt Murray), McCarthy has to make a decision by the end of the month, with Murray and Matt Hill the most obvious choices to miss out.
Looking at the squad that are likely to make the cut, and one thing Wolves don’t lack, is solid replacements in their squad, but the first team itself doesn’t really have many matchwinners in it – not a single player at the club hit double figures last season. The defensive pairing of Craddock and Berra have continued to look strong, and Van Damme may have trouble getting into the side to begin with. That healthy competition may be vital, as the goals against column may not have been spectacular, but keeping that number down seems more likely than adding to the goals for column.
But again, we come back to the 25 man squad rule. McCarthy’s comments last week in the Wolverhampton based Express & Star newspaper showed his lack of foresight: “The top clubs will still have the 25 best players, but the top clubs can’t have 40 players unless 15 of them are under 21.” Unfortunately for Wolves, most of the top clubs will be able to have that luxury, with only Manchester City have a larger Over 21 squad than McCarthy’s men. And with Vokes’ loaned out to Bristol City, Wolves have only one professional considered “Under 21” left at the club, with any playing time in the Premier League; Geoffrey Mujangi Bia played 59 minutes in three games on loan from Charleroi last season, before making the move permanent. McCarthy’s lack of planning in this area, and the lack of backup of players considered under 21, which just about every other club in the division will have, may just be the factor that prevents Wolves’ from making it three successive seasons in the top flight.
Readers are reminded that, whilst comments and criticism are welcome, abusive comments will be deleted, as will comments that use fake email addresses for verification. There are plenty of places on the internet for people to spit bile, but this isn’t one of them. Comments are usually pre-appoved, so may take some time to appear.